The Coffee Table


Zig zag in yin yang isn’t black & white

When the pandemic hit, every morning I examined maps, local and international. When election season got serious, I read the news voraciously. At some point I decided I was better served reading columnists, liberal, conservative, or crazy, to consider various outlooks not mine.

I enjoyed reading Jennifer Finney Boylan, a New York Times columnist who had interesting perspective and lots of humor. I googled her to learn she had written several novels, as James Boylan, before meeting a lifelong goal to declare herself female. Two memoirs, She’s Not There and Stuck in the Middle with You are available through our Carroll County libraries, recounting her life as a son and daughter, husband and wife, father and mother.

We recently watched a silly movie, To Wang Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, with Patrick Swayze, Wesley Swipes and John Leguizano as drag queens. Great acting, nutty story nutty, and the serious aspect dealt with an abusive husband and some smalltime wannabe-rapists. The quote that stuck out was: “Cross dressers are boys who want to dress like girls; transsexuals are women in a man’s body; and drag queens are people with two much fashion sense for one gender.”

Boylan falls in the middle category. As a boy, she dressed in her mother’s and sister’s clothes, secretly. In her twenties, she hoped the right woman would come along and “cure” her. They get married, and birth two children. Boylan is an admired husband-daddy, a college professor, a successful novelist.

But at age 42, she tells her wife about her lifelong belief that she is not male, and begins the difficult transgender process—hormones, psychotherapy, and eventual surgery. Because their family is defined by love, her wife and their children endure and embrace the change. She keeps her academic job and still plays keyboards in local bar bands. Her Christian Republican mother supports her; her dad is dead and her sister disowns her.

The second book includes interviews with other nonconforming people—recognized gay and orphaned authors, a genetic dwarf who is president of the regional Little People organization, a transgender doctor. For the reader, she determines a lifelong search for identity.

Forty years ago, when someone like me was floundering and squandering years of my youth, people said: “He just needs to find himself.” A zig zag in the yin yang—we all want to balance our male and female aspects, but we don’t all go through sex change. I cook supper while my wife fixes lawn mowers.

But that’s our whole lives— a search to find ourselves. It isn’t always so rare as gay or transgender, dwarves or orphans wondering who they are, but for many of us, just living in this world, with whatever acute sensibilities we have, is difficult enough.

In this election, I can be categorized as a retired white man who lives in a rural Arkansas county, therefore predicted to vote Trump. But I have a college degree and don’t go to church, so I’m assumed to vote Bernie, or Biden by default.

I’ve been around gay people most of my conscious life, after I understood what it meant. Only in the past decade have I met transgender people, or gender-fluid people. And it really don’t matter.

George Carlin said that hippies were accepted when they infiltrated society—your son, your daughter’s boyfriend, your co-worker. Suddenly in the past few years gay and transgender people have become (sort of) accepted because we find them everywhere—your son or daughter, their boyfriend or girlfriend, a store clerk, your colleagues, a coach.

When we meet folks different than ourselves, we are forced to see ourselves in a new mirror. We continue to reexamine our own purpose, our triumphs and imperfections, our prejudices and our tolerance for the other, especially when it might be that guy—or gal—in the mirror.

No one warned us that life would be easy, although we internalize that life isn’t fair. The closer we get to death the more we attempt to make sense of life. Truly our lives have no meaning except what we inject them with. Make peace with yourself, and you can make peace with anyone.

Kirk Ashworth

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